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Homeless camp cleanups, a temporary solution to a larger problem

Homeless camp cleanups, a temporary solution to a larger problem
Posted at 6:40 PM, Mar 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-03 20:40:01-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — This week, police and cleanup crews cleared out homeless camps in Southeast Colorado Springs. They were between east Las Vegas Street and Hancock Drive near i25 and the MLK bypass.

The clean-up operation started Monday after people complained about trespassing and camping in the area. Over a two-day period, police say 29 adults were cited for trespassing. 15 of them were taken to the criminal justice center and parole. They also say that officers cleared 66 warrants, including seven that were for felonies. The homeless campers were given a heads up that the clean up was coming.

It’s known that homeless camps can pose health and safety hazards for our community. But clean-up efforts and sweeps like this are only a temporary solution to a larger problem.

“Sometimes the approach is, ‘let's help the people be uncomfortable, so that they move and use the emergency shelter services.’ That's one approach,” said Beth Hall Roalstad, the executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak. “But I think other people just migrate to another place where they can be outside temporarily.”

The organization provides resources for the homeless or those transitioning out of homelessness. Roalstad also mentioned that staff utilize a street outreach heat map. It’s a tool they use to keep track of where they do outreach in the community, and where they’re having conversations with people who don’t have a home.

“Our outreach team is trying to track those folks down, and we try to revisit where they most recently were,” said Roalstad. “We’re really focused on the solutions, resources and referrals, engaging with the clients outside, trying to build trust.”

Outreach is one of their solutions, but the biggest challenge overall, is that homeless people don't have enough options.

“We need to be investing in more of these affordable housing options, building out additional emergency shelter options, and we need emergency shelter for complex health issues,” said Hall Roalstad.

Crystal Karr is the homeless prevention and outreach coordinator for the city. She agreed that the number of homeless people exceeds the number of housing solutions.

“I think having a diversity of agencies, and diversity of program styles is really important. Because that way, the more we have, the more options there are for people to really get out of homelessness and obtain housing stability,” said Karr, who also highlighted some of the work that the Springs Rescue Mission and The Salvation Army is doing.

She said her work focuses on finding short-term and long-term solutions by working with other agencies and non-profits. It comes down to providing immediate need at emergency shelters, providing transitional housing programs, and long-term solutions like more affordable housing.

“Homelessness is an issue that we all have to come together around,” said Karr. “It cannot just be a government solution. It can't just be a nonprofit solution. We need to come together as a community to do when you want to do the best work for our most vulnerable neighbors.”

In a few weeks, Homeward Pikes Peak will be opening a permanent supportive housing community called ‘The Commons.’ It will have 50 units for individuals as well as families and veterans.

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